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NFL Draft: Team Needs - AFC North
John Tuvey
March 26, 2008
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Baltimore Ravens

Primary Needs
After the freefall from a 13-3 record in 2006 to last season’s 5-11, the cracks in Baltimore’s once-impenetrable defense are starting to show. Of course, the same can be said for Steve McNair. That means the Ravens will likely spend one of their first two picks seeking the franchise quarterback that has eluded them, and other early selections on a cornerback and linebacking help for Ray Lewis. And while the fifth-round pick they spent on Jared Gaither in last year’s supplemental draft may help fill the void when Jonathan Ogden retires, Baltimore’s offensive line could use some quality depth as well.

Fantasy Impact
Will Ozzie Newsome have Matt Ryan or Brian Brohm fall into his lap? And if so, how long before new coach John Harbaugh takes a look at what his future holds? Rookie quarterbacks are rarely fantasy helpers, but keeper leaguers will certainly be paying attention to which signal-caller follows in Kyle Boller’s footsteps. And seeing as the Ravens are always a popular defensive pick, more than just IDP-leaguers will be tracking what Baltimore does on the defensive side of the ball.

Potential Targets
Ryan and Brohm are the obvious choices, though it’s no certainty Baltimore will use the eighth overall selection on Brohm even if he’s still on the board. Waiting until Round Two to address their quarterback need leaves the Ravens looking at Michigan’s Chad Henne or Delaware’s Joe Flacco instead. Baltimore could take Leodis McKelvin of Troy in Round One and “settle” for a second-round quarterback, or they could flip-flop their priorities and target Virginia Tech’s Brandon Flowers or Indiana’s Tracy Porter in the second round. The Ravens may not act early enough to snag local linebacker Erin Henderson from Maryland, but they could target Nevada’s Ezra Butler or Tavares Gooden of Miami to bulk up their linebacking corps.

Cincinnati Bengals

Primary Needs
You wouldn’t think wide receiver would be a need for the Bengals, but if Chad Johnson whines his way out of Cincinnati that suddenly becomes a priority. For the moment we’ll assume Ocho Cinco is still in stripes on Draft Day, leaving Marvin Lewis to focus heavily on his defense. A replacement for departed free agent defensive end Justin Smith would be nice; so would some healthy linebackers and run-stuffing tackles. Cincy’s offensive line warrants attention as well, with an heir to veteran right tackle Willie Anderson the most pressing need.

Fantasy Impact
Barring a CJ trade, it’s extremely unlikely any Bengal rookie creates a blip on the fantasy radar. However, if Johnson gets dealt and Chris Henry finds trouble between now and April 26, Carson Palmer could wind up with a shiny new target. You’d think the Bengals could use a tight end, but their offense essentially ignores the position so any draft pick would be of marginal value at best. And even though they could spend all of this year’s picks on the defensive side of the ball, Cincinnati isn’t where IDP denizens should be looking for help.

Potential Targets
The Bengals would be thrilled if USC defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis slips to them at No. 9, or they might be okay with waiting on the position and tabbing Arkansas’ Marcus Harrison or Iowa State’s Ahtyba Rubin to fill the middle of their 3-4 front line. Ends such as Philip Merling of Clemson and USC’s Lawrence Jackson merit consideration as well, as Cincy will be focused on beefing up its defensive front.

Cleveland Browns

Primary Needs
The Browns are saving on hotel accommodations for their staff this year, as there’s no need to fly any representatives to New York until Day Two. Their first round pick went to Dallas in the Brady Quinn trade last April, and Phil Savage turned his second- and third-round selections into defensive tackles Corey Williams and Shaun Rogers. When Cleveland makes its first pick some 120 selections into the draft (depending on how many compensatory picks are added at the end of Round Three) they’ll be looking for someone to get after the passer. An understudy for veteran running back Jamal Lewis may be in the cards as well.

Fantasy Impact
Unless the Browns deal Quinn it’s extremely unlikely they’ll do anything on draft day fantasy folks need pay attention to. The presence of Williams and Rogers should help free up Kamerion Wimbley on the outside, so IDP folks may want to upgrade his status a bit. If Cleveland drafts a handcuff for Lewis you’ll want to take note, as he is fast approaching 30 years old—a frequent death knell for a running back’s career. With Donte Stallworth joining an already potent offense, status quo in Cleveland isn’t necessarily a bad thing. 

Potential Targets
How about a quarterback in round one and some defensive beef in the next two frames? Done, done, and done. Savage has left a wake-up call for late Sunday morning, at which point he hopes Oklahoma’s Allen Patrick or Arizona State’s Ryan Torain could don the pumpkin helmet as Jamal’s backup. Less sexy but just as important for Lewis owners would be mid-round offensive line help such as Toledo’s John Greco or Georgia’s Fernando Velasco.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Primary Needs
The Steelers’ offensive line struggled last season and the departure of its most talented member, guard Alan Faneca, didn’t help. With no other glaring needs, Pittsburgh is free to address their front line with their first and maybe even second selections. Mike Tomlin is a defensive guy, so a corner or a pass rusher could be on the agenda as well. The Steelers have also talked about a complement to Willie Parker, and with Mewelde Moore signed to handle third-down duties the focus would be on a bigger back to use between the tackles and save some of the wear and tear on Fast Willie.

Fantasy Impact
Casual fantasy fans will see the fat guys and defenders on Pittsburgh’s draft board and lose interest. However, anyone banking on Willie Parker will want to know everything about the offensive linemen the Steelers will tab in the early rounds—and those hoping Ben Roethlisberger stays upright long enough to throw downfield need to pay attention as well. If Tomlin can turn up a pass-rusher somewhere along the way, the Steel Curtain should have little difficulty reprising its perennial role as a solid fantasy defense.

Potential Targets
The Steelers would love to keep tackle Jeff Otah in Pittsburgh, but if he’s off the board they could turn to Branden Albert of Virginia Tech or Boston College’s Gosder Cherilus. Arizona State center Mike Pollak could be the Steelers’ next great center and an option in Round Two or Three. A bigger back like Tulane’s Matt Forte or Georgia Tech’s Tashard Choice would provide an interesting “Thunder” to Fast Willie’s “Lightning”.


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